Attack on MSF Hospital was a “Tragic Mistake”: US Investigation

The Oct. 3 air strike in Afghanistan that destroyed a hospital run by MSF was an avoidable accident: US Investigation

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In this Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, file photo, an employee of Doctors Without Borders walks inside the charred remains of their hospital after it was hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (Photo: AP)

The deadly Oct. 3 air strike in Afghanistan that destroyed a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres was a tragic and avoidable accident caused primarily by human error, a top U.S. military commander said while releasing the results of a U.S. investigation.

This was a tragic mistake but avoidable accident caused primarily by human error. U.S. forces would never intentionally strike a hospital or other protected facilities
U.S. Army General John Campbell, who leads international forces in Afghanistan

According to the U.S. investigation, U.S. forces had meant to target a different building in the city and were led off-track by a technical error in their aircraft’s mapping system.

The U.S. forces then looked for a target that was visually similar to the one they had originally sought - the former National Directorate of Security headquarters in Kunduz, which they believed was occupied by insurgents in a different building 450 yards (meters) away.

“Tragically, this misidentification continued throughout the remainder of the operation even though there were contradictory indicators,” U.S. Army General John Campbell said.

In addition, there was no hostile enemy activity at the MSF building, Campbell said, but the U.S. attack continued.

“These are examples of human and procedural errors,” he said.

In this Oct. 14, 2015 file photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (Photo: AP)
In this Oct. 14, 2015 file photo, the charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after being hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan. (Photo: AP)

The timeline detailed by the U.S. military indicated that the 29-minute-long strike began at 2:08 a.m. By 2:20 a.m. a caller from MSF reported the attack to Bagram air base. It took U.S. forces until 2:37 a.m. to realize the mistake, by which time the gunship had already stopped firing.

Campbell said the investigation found that the strike killed 30 staff, patients and assistants while injuring 37. He gave his condolences and said the U.S. military would offer to help rebuild the hospital.

“Chaos does not justify this tragedy,” Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, a spokesman, said at the briefing.

American soldiers and airmen who killed and wounded dozens of civilians in the strike violated U.S. rules of engagement in a war zone, and have been suspended as they await disciplinary action, military officials said Wednesday.

MSF, known as Doctors Without Borders in English, has in the past publicly cast doubt on the idea that the strike could have been a mistake. Detailing its own investigation on Nov. 5, MSF said the site’s location had been clearly communicated to both Afghan forces and the Taliban. Campbell acknowledged the hospital was on a no-strike list and that Doctors Without Borders had contacted coalition military personnel during the attack to say its facility was “being ‘bombed’ from the air,” the word finally was relayed to the AC-130 crew until it was too late, the report said.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the attack, one of the worst cases of civilian casualties in the 14-year history of the U.S war effort.

But it remains unclear whether the U.S. military, even as it expressed remorse and wholly accepted blame, would be able to mend its image in Afghanistan and elsewhere after the attack. 

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